Speech by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton at the Women's Rights Forum in Tripoli

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Brussels, 12 November 2011 A 450/11

“Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an enormous pleasure and privilege to be here in Tripoli.

When I last came to Libya I went to Benghazi and I had the pleasure of meeting with some of the women represented here today and indeed some of the men. And I said that the next time I came I hoped to be able to be in a free Tripoli and a free Libya and today I am here with you.

I know the sacrifices that so many people in this country have made, not least the women. You have fought, you have organized, you have helped, you have healed and you have started to build a new country, your country. Your courage deserves recognition across the world. After 42 years of violence and intimidation, your country is free. Along with the women that I have met in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Afghanistan, you are an inspiration to me and to the women of the European Union and I salute you.
I have come today to listen as much as to talk.

It is not for Europe, or for me or any other outsider, to offer you ready-made solutions. Democracy and freedom are built from the inside, not imported from abroad. What we want to do, what I want to do, is to help. The European Union has stood by the Libyan people from the beginning, protecting the population, offering humanitarian assistance, and calling – consistently – for Gaddafi to go.

We never opened a Delegation in Libya during the 42 years of darkness under Qaddafi. But today, I will open a Delegation.

When I leave this event I will go to inaugurate our new offices, a symbol of our commitment to you, to the people of Libya and to the long term future of this country. Like you I am aware of the many challenges that lie ahead. I met a young human rights activist in Benghazi and he told me: "being in prison was not the worst: the biggest crime was that Qaddafi tried to kill our spirit and our dreams".
Well, he never succeeded – that is clear. But turning the dreams into the future, into the democracy and the future that you want is not going to be fast and is not going to be easy because it never is.